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With hockey world focused on Roberto Luongo, Cory Schneider shines in first start at TD Garden

01.07.12 at 6:44 pm ET
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BC product Cory Schneider made 36 saves Saturday. (AP)

When Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault announced Friday that oft-maligned goaltender Roberto Luongo would not be in net for the Canucks’ rematch against the Bruins Saturday afternoon, the focus remained squarely on Luongo. Why would he back out of a game in which he would have a chance to prove himself? What was he scared of?

Meanwhile, backup Cory Schneider, a Marblehead native and a Boston College product, somehow flew under the radar while criticism of Luongo owned the airwaves, blogs and newspapers.

Although much of the pregame discussion surrounded Luongo, Schneider was the star Saturday afternoon. He marked his first Garden start as an NHL goaltender with a win, stopping 36 shots to help the Canucks top the Bruins, 4-3.

But while Schneider remained largely ignored before the game (although not by his 15 friends and family members who would be coming to see him play), the start in Boston was no minor deal for Schneider.

“It’s a fun building to play in and, again, it was fun for me to play in front of people who have grown up cheering for me and supporting me my whole life,” Schneider said.

“To come back and get this type of opportunity in front of a lot of friends and family and people at home watching, it was really cool. I think it’s even more special since we don’t come here very often. I’m glad we got the win.”

The 25-year-old had played at the TD Garden before. He was the beneficiary of the home crowd cheers from 2005 to 2007, when Schneider and the Eagles finished as the runners-up in the Beanpot twice and won the Hockey East Tournament Championship on Garden ice in both his freshman and junior seasons. Schneider also played at the Garden twice in the Stanley Cup Finals (in relief appearances Game 4 and Game 6) last season, although he did not start either of those games.

Schneider’s first start in Boston lacked the flow of a typical game. The Bruins did not get a shot on goal until nine minutes (and 50 minutes of penalties) into the first period. As fighting ruled the ice and hockey played out as somewhat of a sideshow through the first 30 or so minutes of the game, Schneider somehow found a way to ignore the extracurricular activity and keep his mind on stopping the puck.

“I try to let it be,” Schneider said. “As a goalie, you can’t really get caught up in the emotion of the game. It’s just something you have to stay out of and let the players talk and yap and punch each other in the face, and I have to worry about stopping the puck. I don’t want to get distracted and get caught up in that stuff so I just try to stay focused on what I’m doing.”

But Schneider’s focus could not stifle the Bruins offense completely. Brad Marchand was the first Bruin to beat Schneider, as he tied the game at one-all in the first period by speeding cross-crease and slipping a backhander past Schneider. The second Bruins goal came off the stick of Rich Peverley, who wristed a shot from the low circle past Schneider to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead 7:12 into the second. With the Canucks ahead, 4-2, in the third period, David Krejci took advantage of an abundance of space at the top of the crease to gather a second rebound and nudge it past Schneider, cutting the Vancouver lead to 4-3.

But for most of Saturday’s game, Schneider was strong in net. He stopped Daniel Paille on a penalty shot 23 seconds into the second period and withstood a flurry of Bruins chances late in the third period to earn the victory. Schneider credited his success to his teammates.

“Obviously, the penalty shot is a big shot, but I think it wasn’t a game where I was making ten-bell saves every other minute,” Schneider said. “It was a game where we kept them to the outside for the most part and we didn’t give them too many good looks from in tight. I just sort of had to manage the game from that aspect.”

Manage he did. Schneider’s calm demeanor was just what the Canucks needed in an emotionally fraught game. His slight fist pump after the win was the most emotion Schneider showed all day, and after the game, Vigneault was full of praise for his backup netminder.

“I think our whole group is really happy for Cory,” Vigneault said. “He’s been in our organization here for five years. Really quality kid, and he spent three years in our farm team. Worked real hard at his game and last year got an opportunity to come up and spend the whole year with us, and he was a huge part of our team. When we needed him, he always stepped in and did a great job.

“He never had the opportunity to play in front of his friends and family, and, we thought after analyzing not just that … we just thought he’d give us a good game. He obviously played well for us tonight.”

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